Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 155a
Submitted to the Warrensburg Gazette for September 5, 2002

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette. This is an alternate letter onthe Ambulance District issue.

“Just the facts, ma’am.” That’s what we’ll need to evaluate who’s at fault and who needs to be sued for malfeasance of duty when somebody dies for lack of an ambulance. One thing for sure, we’re going to hear a lot of recriminations and accusations over the next 3 months as we approach the “strike date” set by the City Council for terminating its ambulance service.

A brief summary: Warrensburg and Holden took over ambulance service in 1997 when the private firm walked out. Since then, Warrensburg taxes have supported the shortfall in revenue, to the cumulative total of over $800,000. When Warrensburg and Holden decided they could no longer support the service, voters county-wide approved an ambulance district. The County Commission established subdistricts in clear violation of a state law that requires approximately equal population and of the basic concept of “equal protection of the laws.” A large number of candidates filed for most of the positions. In June, with a very low turnout, members of the board were elected, gaining between 2.48% and 7.02% of total registered voters in their subdistricts.

It became immediately obvious that a most of the board members, contrary to their statements in newspaper interviews, were committed to creating a service out of the whole cloth. There appears to have been no real consideration of asking Warrensburg to bid on continuing to operate the service under contract to the district. Consequently, no fair comparison of relative costs was made. The belief of many in the superior efficiency of a system operated with dual qualified firemen/paramedics was never tested.

Since the district would not be able to quickly create a service from scratch, alternatives for continuing service in the interim were needed. A key issue in establishing an alternative is cost risk. Risk stems from uncertainties in patient payment and unplanned maintenance for aging ambulances. The city provided a proposal that would have alleviated its financial burden by shifting risk to the ambulance board and gaining some recompense for its administrative efforts. The proposal also called for purchase of 2 ambulances and included the remaining months that the city is legally bound to provide county-wide service.

The district made a counteroffer, placing the risk on the city and covering only the period after the city’s obligation ends. The counteroffer was apparently based on discussions with Livingston County, which contracts with the city of Chillicothe. Livingston County has a population of about 14,500, of whom almost 9000 (62%) live in Chillicothe. The whole county is smaller than Warrensburg, which has over 16,000 of Johnson County’s 48,000 or so residents. The district made clear that no further negotiations were possible and that their financial priority is hiring a $60,000 per year administrator effective November 1.

Since the district’s counteroffer provided the city with no advantages and would saddle the city with the risk of additional losses above those it would otherwise have, the city voted to cut those losses and terminate the service after November 30. While the city will retain first responder capabilities within its limits, this decision essentially leaves the eastern 2/3 of the county without ambulance service until the district is ready to operate. It appears that the district is gambling that public outcry will be directed at the city and will force the city to back down and absorb the losses. The chips are people’s lives.

Recognizing that there is no constitutional right to ambulance service, the intransigent attitude of the ambulance board has forfeited any moral high ground. Had the voters of Warrensburg known what the net result would be, the district would not have passed. It is time for the ambulance board members to explain publicly why they want to run their own district despite the cost. It is time for them to publicly report on the specific research they have done – and not done. It is time for the board to recognize that they are there to serve the public and that theirs is the sole responsibility for providing ambulance service.

See also Gadfly 150 and Gadfly 147 for earlier comments.

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